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In March, at the Plantation, Doug Hegdahl
had received a message from Dick Stratton: "The Fox says
go home with his blessing." Fox was the code name of Air
Force Lt. Col. Theodore W. Guy, who was senior to Hervey Stockman
and had succeeded him as SRO. Guy had not been immediately agreeable
to Stratton's proposal that Hegdahl leave early, but Beak, now
codenamed Wizard, had been persuasive. With Guy persuaded,
Hegdahl had only to sell the Vietnamese on the idea.
On June 3, at the height of the DramesiAtterberry
postescape purge, Hegdahl was taken to an interrogation
where it was demanded of him, "Who is Fox?"
He was frightened; he knew that his time for
torture had come. He was in a dilemma; he was not going to give
up code names, yet knew that a failure to cooperate would destroy
his chances for release. Would he then be in violation of orders
from Guy as well as Stratton?
"A fox," he stammered, "is
a small red animal found in a forest . . ."
His interrogator slammed a hand down on the table, shouting, "Code! Fox. Who is the Fox?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
He was thrown on the floor, his hands were
tied behind him, and he was wrapped tightly head to foot in a
straw mat. He was left alone, full of panic, terrified at the
thought of what would happen to him when his interrogator returned.
After about an hour, his bindings were removed and he was seated
at the table again, facing the interrogator.
"We do not like to do unpleasant things to you," the interrogator said, "but you must tell us, who is the Fox?"
Hegdahl was amazed. There was no show of anger.
He was now being treated almost gently; he surmised that his captors
had reminded themselves of his stupidity and had decided to deal
differently with him. Pencil and paper were placed before the
prisoner, and the interrogator ordered, "Write, Fox is SRO."
Hegdahl wrote this, smiling brightly and saying,
"Want to tell me his name; I'll write that down, too?"
The interrogator shook his head, smiling grimly;
he had no intention of giving away military information to Hegdahl.
He said, "White down, 'Beak is Lieutenant Commander Stratton.'"
Hegdahl fort a surge of relief. Beak was the old code name. They
seemed to have the old code and fragments of the new, and with
the pressured, code names were all sure to be changed again immediately.
The interrogator produced a map of the Plantation, pointed at
a building, calling it by the name the prisoners called it, and
said, "Write 'Warehouse' here." Then, pointing at another
building, he ordered, "Write, 'Corucrib' here." That
was the end of it.
On July 4, Hegdahl was taken to a large room
where Cat, the head jailer, sat with two other prisoners, Navy
Lt. Robert Frishman (captured on October 24, 1967) and Air Force
Capt. Wesley Rumble (captured on April 29, 1968). Tea and bananas
were served to the prisoners, and Cat was expansive. "You
three are being considered for release," he said, "if
you show a strictly correct attitude."
When the tea party ended and the three prisoners were leaving the room, Cat called Hegdahl back. He laid before the Dakotan the sheets of paper on which he had taken the dictation a month earlier. He said, "It is true, Heddle, this time you are going home. But mind you, Heddle, if you say anything bad about the camp authorities or about the Vietnamese people when you return, I will see these documents fall into the hands of your government. According to your code of conduct, you will go to prison for revealing secrets of your comrades. "
Hegdahl recalls that when he first joined
the two officers, Frishman and Rumble, he felt required to remind
them that "... you understand that you are not to accept
early release," and to explain that he had been ordered to
leave. He remembers that neither officer made any reply.
Prior to departure Hegdahl came to know the
two well, and to like them. Rumble had an extensive, revised list
of POW names, men who were known to be in captivity because they
had actually been seen and heard by others. Many of Hegdahl's
names were of men who had not been positively identified, had
come from third parties who had only seen names on identification
cards and the like. It was decided that Rumble's list, clearly
the more reliable, was the one that should be given to the U.S.
On August 4, Frishman, Rumble, and Hegdahl
were released to an American antiwar delegation. On reaching
Washington, Hegdahl, disregarding Cat's threat to expose him to
his government for "revealing the secrets of your comrades,"
had much that was "bad" to tell his own government about
the camp authorities. He delivered all the intelligent he held;
he was even able to pinpoint for startled debriefers the precise
location of the Plantation, which, he assured them, "is located
at the intersection of Le Van Binh and Le Van Linh"-he had
collected this information one day while sweeping around the front
gate of the place. The "dumb" Dakotan didn't have to
play dumb anymore.
"Don't worry about me," Stratton
had told Hegdahl two years earlier. "Blow the whistle on
At a press conference, Hegdahl and Frishman were allowed for the first time to tell of mistreatment and brutal torture in Hanoi's prisons. During the Johnson Administration, when the first six POWs had been released from Hanoi, it had been feared that public testimony might trigger a violent reaction against the prisoners who were still in captivity, so nothing was said. The Nixon Administration was persuaded that the information would bring a weight of world opinion to bear against Hanoi that would result in improved treatment for the prisoners.
Later, when Hegdahl was discharged,* Dallas
computer magnate Ross Perot, a 1952 Naval Academy graduate, sent
him to Paris to press Hanoi's peacetalk delegates to allow
inspection teams in the camps. During one meeting a Hanoi representative
protested. "Our policy is very humane in the camps."
"Look," Hegdahl retorted, "I was there."
"Ohhh," the delegate murmured. "Humane
and lenient treatment" was not mentioned again.